Chicago-based Lifeway is seen as an inspiration for many companies in the region, explained Paula Bourlegat, dairy marketing lead for DuPont N&H in South America.. Much of the kefir in Brazil is prepared at home on a daily basis, with Kefir grains primarily obtained through donation, like a “probiotic chain”.
The company is now aiming to industrialize the category with the launch of its Choozit kefir culture line, based on real freeze-dried kefir grains and consists of a wide range to meet different texture and flavor needs.
“We’re the first to launch Kefir grains,” said Bourlegat, “and probably in about a month we’ll have the first launch of a commercial product made with these cultures.”
It’s difficult to know the size of the prize, however, because there hasn’t been a ‘industrial’ kefir category until now. “I believe it will be a boom as soon as one or two companies launch,” she said. The company is starting in Brazil, but is also “mapping the regulatory landscape to cascade the grains to other markets in the region.”
Global demand for kefir is booming, with data from Innova Marketing showing that global kefir product launches nearly tripled over the past five years, with 140 products launched globally over the past 12 months.
Kefir is a fermented beverage produced by fermenting milk with the microflora of kefir grains. The product’s microflora is composed of many different species of microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Leuconostoc, Streptococcus, and yeasts - lactose fermenters and non-fermenters. Kefir’s unique flavor and acidity characteristics are linked to the small amount of CO2, alcohol and aromatic compounds produced during fermentation.
Cintia Nishiyama, regional marketing manager South America for DuPont Nutrition and Health, told us that the Kefir grains are interesting because they were driven by consumers, with social media and the internet accelerating consumer understanding of products that are booming in other markets.
“It used to take three to four years for products or concepts from elsewhere to make it to Brazil, but now it’s much less. The speed of the transfer of information is so rapid now.”
Fermented foods in general are attracting a lot of consumer interest, said Nishiyama, and there are already one or two very small kefir brands on the market in Brazil. Kombucha is another category that has a lot of consumer interest. According to SPINS, US retail sales of refrigerated kombucha and other fermented beverages surged 37.4% to $556m in 2017.